Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Being A Jerk (er, Bully) Is NOT Ok: Straight From The Mouth Of A Former Mean Girl

First thing first - I hate the word ‘bully.’ I can’t stand how just disagreeing with someone spurs screams of ‘bullying.’ It’s whiny and it’s overused and it really gets to me, way down, like I feel it in my soul.  In many cases I just want to roll my eyes and scream to ‘get over it.’ 

Now, this is where I have to admit that I was a ‘mean girl’ through-out high school and into my 20s. I’m not really sure why. I (- or rather we – a group of about 6 queen bees that denied all others access to our hive) really weren’t even cool and obviously lacked in the traits one looks for when picking friends anyway (as in straight-up b*tches, with a side of cruelty, aren’t exactly friend material). I (and Nicole – also a self proclaimed former ‘mean girl’) often find ourselves wondering just who in the hell we thought we were back then.

In recent years, however, we have found empathy and encouragement to be the preferred method of adult-ing – or just human-ing for that matter.  So, even as I roll my eyes, I am simultaneously aching for both parties.
What must the ‘bully’ have been taught or experienced to feel they have a right to treat another person that way? I feel sorry for them. Then, I watch the bullied and I cringe as they question themselves, who they are, and the choice to walk their unique path. And I feel sorry for them too. This is how I found myself sitting on yet another fence. I do this, -- a lot. I have a habit of looking at both sides, and trying to relate to everyone. This issue, in particular, is one I had been on the fence about for several years.

My kids attend all of the anti-bully campaigns, they wear the Be Nice. t-shirts and my youngest was even named a ‘Peacekeeper’ in elementary school. Therefore, I don’t have to worry about taking a stand - clearly it’s under control right? Right. …Until last year.
For the first time in my 13 years of parenting, my middle schooler came home upset because he was being ‘bullied.’ “They” called him fat, they insulted his intelligence, and they had recruited as many followers as they could to gang up on him.

Remember that fence I was sitting on? Well, after hearing that, this mama-bear was not only ready to jump off it but also to destroy it. …and this is all it took for my empathy toward bullies to take a hike. I quickly realized that when that type of ridicule is turned on MY child, I no longer care what the bully has been through or how to help them. I want to hunt them down, get in their face, and rip them apart. Yes, even if they are only 11.

Although my first instinct was to teach fight, I took a few deep breathes, thought it through, and instead preached flight. I told my son to walk away, find something else to do and ignore it – much the same as is taught by the school campaigns. But, as I said it, it made me angry. I was angry that he should have to vary his ways because of the cruelty of others.
He has every right to be on the basketball court at recess or to sit at the lunch table closest to the window or to wear two different socks, orange shorts with a pink shirt, and bedhead that closely resembles that of Ronald McDonald’s. Seriously – what or who is he hurting?? Nothing and no one. Therefore, he shouldn’t have to explain himself and he should be allowed to defend himself.

This is when I realized that the anti-bully campaign ‘rules’ aren’t stopping the problem, they are just making it harder for those affected to fight back. How can you effectively fight off a bully for good by just ignoring them. In fact, haven’t we then kind of ‘let them win,’ and does anything in life really get resolved by just ignoring it?? I think not.

And so it turns out that I’m not ok with my kid tucking his tail between his legs and retreating. Life is hard work and at times uncomfortable and downright soul crushing. These are not the times to retreat, and it is my job to instill in my kids the confidence and assertiveness needed to resolve such situations. So, what is an acceptable form of fighting back? And, when fighting back, where do you draw the line between defending yourself and just becoming another ‘bully’? This struggle is real, folks. Even as an adult this line seems to elude me.
So, I thought long and hard - luckily I had a whole summer - during which I concluded that it was time to define and defend that line. I had to permanently get off that fence and send my son into the new school year with tools to stand up for himself. These tools didn’t end up being boxing gloves, running shoes, or witty comebacks. I sent him back to school with confidence, a strong sense of who he is (as best he knows at this age), and a little bit of an ego.
The line is drawn anywhere that insults are thrown and the risk of becoming just another bully isn’t even on the radar anymore. All’s fair in love and war … and self-defense. So, son, hold your head up … posture-up even, stand your ground, and give those ‘bullies’ a little piece of your mind. Be careful to keep your dignity by not stripping them of theirs but do not tip-toe around the facts.

Because, bottom line, being a jerk (er, bully) is NOT ok.

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